A coalition of environmental groups has filed a legal petition with the federal government to evaluate how the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) contributes to climate change and to begin phasing the 800-mile line out of existence. The government first authorized the pipeline right-of-way across federal land in the 1970s and the pipeline has been operating successfully since then. Environmentalists opposed the pipeline in the 1970’s, arguing it would disrupt caribou and cause other environmental damage. The pipeline has transported nearly 19 billion barrels of oil and is Alaska’s economic lifeline. The federal government reauthorized the pipeline in 2002, but the environmental groups are asking the Department of Interior to begin a new environmental analysis for the pipeline because earlier studies of the pipeline did not consider the greenhouse gas emissions that resulted when the oil was refined and used, and to draft a plan to dismantle the pipeline and restore the land corridor.  The pipeline’s right of way is not due for renewal until 2034.

The petition also says that thawing permafrost is undermining the integrity of the pipeline, which the government should evaluate. The pipeline operating company, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., issued a written response saying the pipeline is in excellent operational condition. The company ensures safety by monitoring, maintaining and modifying the infrastructure in an unending cycle. According to Michelle Egan, a spokesperson for pipeline operator Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the company continues to “collaborate with our numerous federal and state regulatory partners as we meet our commitments to safe and environmentally responsible operations. We are steadfast and dedicated to being a prudent operator, safely and reliably transporting oil from the North Slope of Alaska into the future.” Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy called the petitioners “nuts” and accused them of wanting to destroy Alaska more than they want to protect the environment.

The petition asks the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which falls under the Interior Department, to evaluate a range of options that include not renewing the right-of-way, issuing a right-of-way for a period of 10 or fewer years, rather than 30, to allow for “continuous re-evaluation of the landscape in which TAPS operates,” setting potential limits on how much oil flows through the pipeline and requiring North Slope oil producers to adopt emissions controls for their operations. According to the environmental groups, the “only rational conclusion of that analysis will be a managed phase down of the pipeline,” and their petition calls on the Interior’s Department of Land Management to begin work on such a plan. No specific timeline, however, is suggested for the phase down.

The petition is the first step in pursuit of a legal strategy to get the courts to reject the pipeline or “sue and settle” the issue with the Biden Administration. President Joe Biden was one of only 5 Senators to oppose construction of the pipeline in one of his first votes as a freshman Senator in 1973.


Put in service in 1977, the 800-mile pipeline is the primary way to carry oil drilled on Alaska’s North Slope to ports, refineries and pipelines farther south. It is the lifeline of the state’s industry crisscrossing the state’s rugged terrain and keeping oil from freezing in frigid temperatures. Oil supplies almost 85 percent of the state’s revenues in a state over twice the size of Texas. Oil flow through the trans-Alaska pipeline system averaged around 470,000 barrels a day last year. The 48-inch pipeline is capable of transiting 2 million barrels per day from Prudhoe Bay to the ice-free port of Valdez for shipping to the continental United States. At its peak, in the late 1980s, about 2 million barrels a day flowed through the line. The pipeline is looking for additional oil supplies since it has about 1.5 million barrels per day of available capacity.  So far, the pipeline has transported 18.7 billion barrels over its lifetime.

To that end, the state welcomed the approval by President Biden of the Willow project that could help fill the pipeline’s capacity. The Biden administration approved the Willow oil project in the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope over a year ago–a decision that was welcomed by Alaska political leaders seeking to stem a trend of declining oil production in the state and by many Alaska Native leaders in the region who see the project as economically vital for their communities. It would represent a significant increase in federal production in Alaska, since almost all the oil to date has come from state lands on the North Slope. Willow, which is being developed by ConocoPhillips Alaska, could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day, or almost as much as a large production platform in the Gulf of Mexico.  Some of the groups who filed the petition, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, are among those who have asked an appeals court to overturn the approval of Willow. A decision is pending.


The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was built in the 1970s to provide oil from oil-rich Alaska to the lower 48 states, and it has continued to do so ever since. With President Biden’s onerous anti-oil and gas policies, it is imperative that the nation develop new sources of oil for the future wherever possible in order to remain independent of OPEC and its partners. When the Willow project starts producing oil, it will need the pipeline to transport that oil to markets.

While President Biden is pushing the United States to a mandated transition to electric vehicles, U.S. consumers are showing that they do not want to purchase plug in electrics as they do not fit their needs primarily due to long charging times, few public chargers, and low vehicle range. Unless that changes, the transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to plug-in electrics will take a long time, and it may only partially occur. In the meantime, oil is an important commodity needed for personnel travel as well as weapon production and maintenance. To rid the nation of the transport system of a major and potentially growing source of oil would be harmful to the energy security of the United States.

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